France’s new no-deal Brexit law was meant to reassure more than 150,000 UK nationals living in the EU27’s second-largest economy about their future status.
With just five weeks to go until Brexit day the new law – combined with a huge backlog of applications and certain local authorities apparently introducing their own rules – has merely created more confusion and worry plus extra hurdles for Britons desperately trying to get a Carte de Séjour residency permit.
Even long before the no-deal law was published earlier this month Brits in certain departments around France have faced problems when applying for a Carte de Séjour (CdS): long waits, a lack of appointments, inconsistent demands around paperwork needed or officials simply turning them away telling them they don't need one until after Brexit.
That's despite the Ministry of Interior and the British Embassy advising otherwise.
The no-deal law, which will give Britons a year to get the relevant Titre de Séjour for third country nationals, has muddied the waters even further and there are increasing reports of local authorities now refusing to process any applications until after Brexit.
The prefecture in Cotes-D'Armor, Brittany has issued a statement online to say it will not be offering further appointments for residency permits to Brits until June 2019 due to the fact “new provisions will come into force soon, modifying the conditions for issuing residence permits for British nationals already living in France.”
“We are waiting for the French government to give us more information on deals that are still being negotiated with the UK. We therefore cannot process British citizens as long as we do not know exactly what to do. If the elements become clear before June, we will reopen appointments before then,” Frédéric Maignon, a spokesman for Cotes D'Armor, told The Local.
There are reports of other prefectures around France taking a similar stance even though the Ministry of Interior hasn't, publicly anyway, changed its advice that Britons should still apply for a CdS now.
A spokeswoman for the British Embassy in Paris told The Local they had “received feedback from UK nationals in France describing isolated issues with certain local prefectures when applying for a Carte de Sejour.”
“The French Interior Ministry have assured us that any UK nationals currently living legally in France and exercising their EU rights are able to request a Carte de Séjour,” the Embassy spokeswoman The Local.
Most are doing so without issues but given that only 20,000 out of an estimated 150,000 Britons have acquired a CdS French officials face a tough few months ahead especially if there's a no-deal. If there is an agreement Britons would still need to apply for a Carte de Sejour but they would have until June 2021 to do so.
Kalba Meadows, a rights campaigner and coordinator of the Remain in France Together (RIFT) group, said they had heard reports of local authorities refusing to accept applications by simply telling Brits to apply for the relevant documentation “when Brexit begins”.
“There are a handful of préfectures which seem to have suspended applications until after Brexit but this isn't widespread. We're trying to get more details of it as it's hearsay at the moment, and I will be discussing it with the Interior Ministry when I meet with them in a couple of weeks,” she told The Local.
One department in France which has received a high number of Carte de Séjour applications is Gironde in the south west, which is home to around 2,800 Britons.
When asked about what officials there were doing to help Brits a spokeswoman for the prefecture said: “It is difficult to answer specifically regarding the organizational arrangements within the prefecture as long as Brexit has not actually happened.”
She added that officials there are simply not used to dealing with Carte de Séjour applications from Brits, given that as EU citizens “their right to stay is acquired without the need to hold a residence permit.”
Gironde is currently dealing with 200 applications from British citizens but it remains unclear whether those cards will be issued on time.
What comes next
It's clear that many Britons are holding back from applying for a CdS until they know more about what the future holds. Some are simply holding back in the hope Brexit will never happen while others are reluctant to apply because they are fearful of being rejected on the grounds that they don't have income regular income.
While a no-deal would give them a grace period of one year to apply, they are likely to have pay a fee that could be upwards of €300 and they will also have to prove they meet minimum income requirements to show they are self-sufficient.
The fee, which has not yet been set by the Interior Ministry, is even likely to apply to those who have successfully obtained a Carte de Séjour and just need to swap it for a new card.
The positive news for those who have obtained a Carte de Séjour permanent – given to those Britons who have proved five years of legal residence in France – is that they won't have to demonstrate they meet the new income requirements.
Yet full details are still not available on whether UK nationals who manage to obtain a Carte de Séjour before March 29th will be privileged in the post no-deal landscape in which they will face more stringent residency criteria.
“Residence permits obtained before March 30th 2019 must be exchanged according to a schedule that will be specified later,” states the French government’s online resource on UK nationals’ rights in the event of a no-deal.
A lack of clarity with just five weeks to go until Brexit Day is causing anxiety levels to rise.
“The biggest worry for Britons at the moment is that the decree that gives details of the resources requirements hasn't yet been published, so understandably people are worried as they don't know what it will say,” Kalba Meadows from RIFT told The Local.
“The other issue of concern is the cost, which also hasn't yet been published. So it's the unknowns that are the main concerns, as ever,” she said.
Either way, some local authorities are having to focus resources to address the concerns of anxious UK nationals resident in their area – such as Dordogne, where more than 7,000 British nationals live.
Since June 2018 alone, the southwestern department says it has sent 652 email replies to concerned British citizens who sought information about their status vis-a-vis Brexit, according to Aurélia Paillot, a spokeswoman for Dordogne prefecture in Perigueux.
Paillot added that the local government’s office that deals with migration issues may need to be expanded simply to meet demand from British residents in the event of a no-deal.
Whatever the outcome of the Brexit rollercoaster, Paillot says the 7,000+ Brits under the local government’s jurisdiction in Dordogne will be treated like stakeholders.
“Once the (Brexit) decision has been finalized, a meeting will be organized in the prefecture to present the organization set up to manage the right to stay of British nationals, in conjunction with the representatives of the community,” Paillot told The Local.
Not all French regions are so keen to advertise their Brexit preparedness. “We are not in a position to answer any questions related to the registration of Brits in our region,” said a spokeswoman for the local government in the department of Gers, in the Occitanie region.
The Interior Ministry had not responded to The Local's request for comments at the time of publication.
For UK nationals holding out hope that the UK and the EU could still reach an agreement to ring-fence their current rights, a proposed Amendment to the prime minister's meaningful vote motion on February 26th by British MP Alberto Costa will be pleasing news.
“This House… requires the prime minister to seek at the earliest opportunity a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt part two of the withdrawal agreement on citizens rights and ensure its implementation prior to the UK¹s exiting the European Union, whatever the outcome of negotiations on other aspects of the withdrawal agreement,” states a press release by rights group ECREU about the amendment, which will be debated on February 26th.
The Amendment reignites hopes for the 1.2 million Britons in the EU and the three million EU citizens in Britain that their rights could still be protected by a pan-European agreement.